The Deer Hunter


3h 3m 1978
The Deer Hunter

Brief Synopsis

Michael, Steven and Nick are young factory workers from Pennsylvania who get drafted to fight in Vietnam. Before they go, Steven marries the pregnant Angela and their wedding-party is also the men's farewell party. After some time and many horrors the three friends fall in the hands of the Vietcong and are brought to a prison camp in which they are forced to play Russian roulette against each other. Michael makes it possible for them to escape, but they soon get separated again.

Film Details

Also Known As
Deer Hunter, Voyage au bout de l'enfer
MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
War
Release Date
1978
Location
Weat Virginia, USA; Thailand; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Mount Baker, Washington, USA; Ohio, USA

Technical Specs

Duration
3h 3m
Sound
70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints), Dolby (35 mm prints)
Color
Color
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

Epic drama follows the lives of a group of Russian-American friends from a small Pennsylvannia industrial town as they prepare to leave for Vietnam, but when they return from the war, their lives are indelibly changed.

Crew

Del Acevedo

Makeup

David Anderson

Production Supervisor

Max Balchowsky

Stunts

Claude Binyon Jr.

Production Manager

M R Boonyalak

Location Manager

Gerald E Bruthsche

Stunts

Barry Butler

Production Assistant

Edwin Butterworth

Makeup

Joann Carelli

Production Consultant

Joann Carelli

Associate Producer

Greer Cavagnaro

Photography

Michael Cimino

From Story

Michael Cimino

Screenplay

Michael Cimino

Producer

Cis Corman

Casting

Fred Cramer

Special Effects

Howard Curtis

Stunts

Eleanor Dawson

Technical Advisor

Michael Deeley

Producer

Richard Dioguardi

Technical Advisor

Teri E. Dorman

Sound Editor

Ted Duncan

Stunts

Garry Elmendorf

Special Effects Assistant

Frank Ernest

Location Manager

Wayne Fitzgerald

Titles

Michael Flynn

Production Assistant

Katrina Franken

Photography

Jim Fritch

Sound Editor

Louis Garfinkle

From Story

Patrick Gauvain

Production Assistant

Richard Goddard

Set Decorator

Philip Jones Griffiths

Photography

Michael Grillo

Assistant Director

Wynn Hammer

Photography

Robert Lee Harris

Stunts

Alan Hicks

Set Decorator

Ron Hobbs

Art Director

Stephen Katz

Consultant

Mary Keats

Hair

Jay B King

Special Effects Assistant

James J Klinger

Sound Effects Editor

Charles Darin Knight

Sound

Art Lipschultz

Props

Carey Loftin

Stunt Coordinator

Ira Loonstein

Unit Production Manager

Deiter Ludwig

Photography

Bill Lukather

Unit Production Manager

William Mccaughey

Sound

Troy Melton

Stunts

Robert O Moore

Key Grip

Stanley Myers

Music

Ralph Naradini

Other

Charles Okun

Assistant Director

Michael Orlando

Production Supervisor

John Peverall

Producer

Bud Piefer

Props

Richard Portman

Sound

Frank W Reale

Sound

Quinn Redeker

From Story

Aaron Rochin

Sound

Marion Rosenberg

Associate Producer

June Samson

Script Supervisor

Elliot Schick

Executive Producer

Eric Seelig

Costumes

Nanette Siegert

Production Coordinator

Dick Smith

Makeup

Barry Spikings

Producer

Daniel C Striepeke

Makeup

Kim Swados

Art Director

Buddy Van Horn

Stunt Coordinator

Jack Verbois

Stunts

Deric Washburn

From Story

Deric Washburn

Screenplay

Chuck Waters

Stunts

John Williams

Main Title Theme Performer

Florence Williamson

Assistant Editor

Peter Zinner

Editor

William Zsigmond

Director Of Photography

Photo Collections

The Deer Hunter - Lobby Cards
Here are several Lobby Cards from Universal's The Deer Hunter (1978), starring Robert De Niro. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.

Videos

Movie Clip

Deer Hunter, The (1978) - Don't Get Your Ass Shot Off! Co-writer and director Michael Cimino perhaps forges his characters, Russian-American steel workers in Clairton, Pa., ca. 1967, Mike (Robert De Niro) Stevie (John Savage), Nick (Christopher Walken) headed for Viet Nam, sidekicks Stan (John Cazale) and Axel (Chuck Aspegren), opening The Deer Hunter, 1978.
Deer Hunter, The (1978) - Can't Take My Eyes Off You Famous beery camaraderie from director Michael Cimino, the Four Seasons hit by Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe, Mike and Nick (Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken) shooting pool, Stan (John Cazale) counseling bridegroom Stevie (John Savage), the wedding and Viet Nam looming, in The Deer Hunter, 1978.
Deer Hunter, The (1978) - Blessed Is The Kingdom From director Michael Cimino’s much-praised Russian-Orthodox wedding sequence, shot in a Cleveland church, Christopher Walken and Meryl Streep in immediate support of John Savage and Rutanya Alda, Robert De Niro, John Cazale, George Dzundza et al attending, from The Deer Hunter, 1978.
Deer Hunter, The (1978) - This Is This After the wedding and before Viet Nam, Michael Cimino shooting his Pennsylvania steel-workers’ last hunting trip in the Washington Cascades, John Cazale as profane Stanley, Robert De Niro as Mike, Christopher Walken as conciliating Nick, with Chuck Aspegren, George Dzundza, in The Deer Hunter, 1979.
Deer Hunter, The (1978) - Think Of Something Else By apparent chance, Pennsylvania buddies Nick (Christopher Walken) and Stevie (John Savage) find Mike (Robert De Niro) after a nasty firefight in Viet Nam, whereupon they’re all captured, director Michael Cimino introducing the incendiary Russian roulette theme, in The Deer Hunter, 1978.

Trailer

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Also Known As
Deer Hunter, Voyage au bout de l'enfer
MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
War
Release Date
1978
Location
Weat Virginia, USA; Thailand; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Mount Baker, Washington, USA; Ohio, USA

Technical Specs

Duration
3h 3m
Sound
70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints), Dolby (35 mm prints)
Color
Color
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Award Wins

Best Director

1979
Michael Cimino

Best Editing

1979

Best Picture

1979
Michael Cimino

Best Sound

1979

Best Supporting Actor

1979
Christopher Walken

Award Nominations

Best Actor

1979
Robert De Niro

Best Cinematography

1979

Best Supporting Actress

1979
Meryl Streep

Best Writing, Screenplay

1979
Michael Cimino

Articles

The Deer Hunter (1978) - The Deer Hunter


The career of film director Michael Cimino supports the timeworn adage that success has many fathers but failure is an orphan. Though there is little disagreement among his many collaborators regarding the genesis of Cimino's notorious box office flops - among them Heaven's Gate (1980) and his 1990 remake of The Desperate Hours (1955) - the backstory of his multiple Academy Award-winning The Deer Hunter (1978) remains clouded in mystery and no small amount of acrimony. Undisputed is that the project began with a spec screenplay titled The Man Who Came to Play, which was being shopped around Hollywood in 1968 by its authors, independent writer-producer Louis Garfinkle (I Bury the Living, 1958) and character actor Quinn Redeker (a familiar face for cult film fans due to his jocular heroic turns in Spider Baby [1968] and The Three Stooges Meet Hercules, 1962). Garfinkle and Redeker's tale involved a cynical Viet Nam veteran reduced by bitterness and psychological trauma to playing Russian Roulette... for a living. With the war in Southeast Asia considered taboo subject matter for films, the property was passed hot potato style for years, landing ultimately at Universal with producer Michael Deeley, who offered it to Cimino.

A graduate of Yale University and the Madison Avenue advertising game, Cimino signed with the William Morris Agency in Hollywood, where his first credit came for chipping in on the screenplay for Douglas Trumbull's Silent Running (1972). Ambitious to a fault, Cimino began crafting an original script tailored to the talents and taste of William Morris client Clint Eastwood. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) would come to involve Jeff Bridges in a road picture/crime caper centered on the love-hate relationship between a career criminal and a young drifter. Though Eastwood loved the script, Cimino held fast for the right to direct. Helping to seal the deal was his offer to rewrite John Milius' patchy screenplay for Magnum Force (1973), Eastwood's cash-in sequel to Don Siegel's searing policier Dirty Harry (1971). Though the follow-up left critics unimpressed, Magnum Force out-grossed the original by an appreciable margin, insuring a green light for Thunderbolt and Lightfoot with Cimino at the helm. Clashing in temperament and artistic vision, Eastwood and Cimino nonetheless turned in another winner. If the gate for Thunderbolt and Lightfoot failed to measure up to that of Magnum Force, Hollywood (and the critics) remained impressed.

Seeing the potential in The Man Who Came to Play, Cimino hired his Silent Running co-writer Deric Washburn to craft a screenplay that set the tale more firmly within the Viet Nam conflict. By Washburn's account (disputed by Cimino), he and Cimino established plot particulars over three days at the Sunset Marquis in Los Angeles, after which Washburn was given three weeks to bang out the balance; Cimino then (allegedly) took delivery of the script, added his own name, and fired Washburn. According to Cimino, a booze-addled Washburn delivered a nonsensical script that required extensive rewrites. Ultimately, the Writer's Guild awarded Washburn a sole screenplay byline, with Cimino, Redeker and Garfinkle sharing original story credit. Casting The Deer Hunter proved easier, with the acquisition of Robert De Niro to play the troubled vet protagonist sparking a veritable domino effect within the New York theatre world, resulting in the participation of Meryl Streep, John Cazale, and Christopher Walken. Cast as longtime friends, the actors kept childhood pictures of one another in their pockets during filming to promote a sense of continuity and camaraderie.

Eschewing even the suggestion of shooting on the studio backlot, Cimino trucked his cast and crew over four states (West Virginia, Ohio, Washington State, and Pennsylvania) and to Thailand, which stood in for Viet Nam. (The river seen in the film was the River Kwai, setting for Pierre Boulle's World War II novel Bridge over the River Kwai and David Lean's film adaptation Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957.) Russian immigrants hired as extras during the prolonged wedding and reception scene were told by production assistants to supply their own prop wedding gifts to ensure a degree of regional authenticity; misunderstanding the condition of their employment, most of the extras brought actual gifts, including silverware sets and bone china, but were rewarded with actual liquor during filming. An Ohio storefront mocked up to the tune of $25,000 to serve as the character's local watering hole was later converted into an actual saloon for local steel workers. Cimino's mania for realism leached beyond the director's chair, with star De Niro demanding the use of real bullets during the film's controversial Russian Roulette scene.

Going over-budget and over-schedule, Cimino brought The Deer Hunter home at a cost of $13,000,000 (with another $2,000,000 rung up for publicity and distribution). Handed 600,000 feet of printed film, editor Peter Zinner cut the picture down to a more manageable (and salable) 18,000 - only to be fired by an incensed Cimino for his efforts. Through the intercession of veteran film editor Verna Fields, then head of Universal's postproduction department, Cimino was persuaded to compromise and The Deer Hunter was greeted with near universal acclaim upon its limited release in December 1978, timed to ensure its eligibility for the Academy Awards. By the time The Deer Hunter was put into general release in February 1979, it was the recipient of nine Oscar® nominations, of which it won five, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor for Christopher Walken. Another win came for Editing and a seemingly grateful Cimino kissed Peter Zinner at the April 1979 presentation of the Academy Awards at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion - though he later sniped to The New York Observer: "Zinner was a moron - I cut The Deer Hunter."

Lauded, condemned, debated, and respected, The Deer Hunter emerged as the (arguably) finest offering in a spate of Viet Nam films that emerged at the end of the decade, among them Hal Ashby's Coming Home (1978), Milos Forman's Hair (1979), Sidney J. Furie's The Boys in Company C (1978), and Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979). Though he was poised to follow The Deer Hunter by directing Robert De Niro in The King of Comedy (1983), he withdrew from the project to direct Heaven's Gate, leaving the abandoned project to Martin Scorsese. Notorious for overspending and unbridled hubris, Cimino's subsequent films (Year of the Dragon [1985], The Sicilian [1987], The Sunchaser [1996]) were met with alternating hostility and indifference, while the projects he turned down, abandoned, or missed out on (The Pope of Greenwich Village [1984], Footloose [1984], a Janis Joplin biopic, an adaptation of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead) went to other directors or remain unrealized. In 1996, The Deer Hunter was included by the Library of Congress in the National Film Registry for its aesthetic, cultural, and historic significance.

by Richard Harland Smith

Sources:
Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock-n-Roll Generation Saved Hollywood by Peter Biskind (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 1998)
Clint Eastwood: The Life and Legend by Patrick McGilligan (St. Martin's Press, 1999)

The Deer Hunter (1978) - The Deer Hunter

The Deer Hunter (1978) - The Deer Hunter

The career of film director Michael Cimino supports the timeworn adage that success has many fathers but failure is an orphan. Though there is little disagreement among his many collaborators regarding the genesis of Cimino's notorious box office flops - among them Heaven's Gate (1980) and his 1990 remake of The Desperate Hours (1955) - the backstory of his multiple Academy Award-winning The Deer Hunter (1978) remains clouded in mystery and no small amount of acrimony. Undisputed is that the project began with a spec screenplay titled The Man Who Came to Play, which was being shopped around Hollywood in 1968 by its authors, independent writer-producer Louis Garfinkle (I Bury the Living, 1958) and character actor Quinn Redeker (a familiar face for cult film fans due to his jocular heroic turns in Spider Baby [1968] and The Three Stooges Meet Hercules, 1962). Garfinkle and Redeker's tale involved a cynical Viet Nam veteran reduced by bitterness and psychological trauma to playing Russian Roulette... for a living. With the war in Southeast Asia considered taboo subject matter for films, the property was passed hot potato style for years, landing ultimately at Universal with producer Michael Deeley, who offered it to Cimino. A graduate of Yale University and the Madison Avenue advertising game, Cimino signed with the William Morris Agency in Hollywood, where his first credit came for chipping in on the screenplay for Douglas Trumbull's Silent Running (1972). Ambitious to a fault, Cimino began crafting an original script tailored to the talents and taste of William Morris client Clint Eastwood. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) would come to involve Jeff Bridges in a road picture/crime caper centered on the love-hate relationship between a career criminal and a young drifter. Though Eastwood loved the script, Cimino held fast for the right to direct. Helping to seal the deal was his offer to rewrite John Milius' patchy screenplay for Magnum Force (1973), Eastwood's cash-in sequel to Don Siegel's searing policier Dirty Harry (1971). Though the follow-up left critics unimpressed, Magnum Force out-grossed the original by an appreciable margin, insuring a green light for Thunderbolt and Lightfoot with Cimino at the helm. Clashing in temperament and artistic vision, Eastwood and Cimino nonetheless turned in another winner. If the gate for Thunderbolt and Lightfoot failed to measure up to that of Magnum Force, Hollywood (and the critics) remained impressed. Seeing the potential in The Man Who Came to Play, Cimino hired his Silent Running co-writer Deric Washburn to craft a screenplay that set the tale more firmly within the Viet Nam conflict. By Washburn's account (disputed by Cimino), he and Cimino established plot particulars over three days at the Sunset Marquis in Los Angeles, after which Washburn was given three weeks to bang out the balance; Cimino then (allegedly) took delivery of the script, added his own name, and fired Washburn. According to Cimino, a booze-addled Washburn delivered a nonsensical script that required extensive rewrites. Ultimately, the Writer's Guild awarded Washburn a sole screenplay byline, with Cimino, Redeker and Garfinkle sharing original story credit. Casting The Deer Hunter proved easier, with the acquisition of Robert De Niro to play the troubled vet protagonist sparking a veritable domino effect within the New York theatre world, resulting in the participation of Meryl Streep, John Cazale, and Christopher Walken. Cast as longtime friends, the actors kept childhood pictures of one another in their pockets during filming to promote a sense of continuity and camaraderie. Eschewing even the suggestion of shooting on the studio backlot, Cimino trucked his cast and crew over four states (West Virginia, Ohio, Washington State, and Pennsylvania) and to Thailand, which stood in for Viet Nam. (The river seen in the film was the River Kwai, setting for Pierre Boulle's World War II novel Bridge over the River Kwai and David Lean's film adaptation Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957.) Russian immigrants hired as extras during the prolonged wedding and reception scene were told by production assistants to supply their own prop wedding gifts to ensure a degree of regional authenticity; misunderstanding the condition of their employment, most of the extras brought actual gifts, including silverware sets and bone china, but were rewarded with actual liquor during filming. An Ohio storefront mocked up to the tune of $25,000 to serve as the character's local watering hole was later converted into an actual saloon for local steel workers. Cimino's mania for realism leached beyond the director's chair, with star De Niro demanding the use of real bullets during the film's controversial Russian Roulette scene. Going over-budget and over-schedule, Cimino brought The Deer Hunter home at a cost of $13,000,000 (with another $2,000,000 rung up for publicity and distribution). Handed 600,000 feet of printed film, editor Peter Zinner cut the picture down to a more manageable (and salable) 18,000 - only to be fired by an incensed Cimino for his efforts. Through the intercession of veteran film editor Verna Fields, then head of Universal's postproduction department, Cimino was persuaded to compromise and The Deer Hunter was greeted with near universal acclaim upon its limited release in December 1978, timed to ensure its eligibility for the Academy Awards. By the time The Deer Hunter was put into general release in February 1979, it was the recipient of nine Oscar® nominations, of which it won five, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor for Christopher Walken. Another win came for Editing and a seemingly grateful Cimino kissed Peter Zinner at the April 1979 presentation of the Academy Awards at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion - though he later sniped to The New York Observer: "Zinner was a moron - I cut The Deer Hunter." Lauded, condemned, debated, and respected, The Deer Hunter emerged as the (arguably) finest offering in a spate of Viet Nam films that emerged at the end of the decade, among them Hal Ashby's Coming Home (1978), Milos Forman's Hair (1979), Sidney J. Furie's The Boys in Company C (1978), and Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979). Though he was poised to follow The Deer Hunter by directing Robert De Niro in The King of Comedy (1983), he withdrew from the project to direct Heaven's Gate, leaving the abandoned project to Martin Scorsese. Notorious for overspending and unbridled hubris, Cimino's subsequent films (Year of the Dragon [1985], The Sicilian [1987], The Sunchaser [1996]) were met with alternating hostility and indifference, while the projects he turned down, abandoned, or missed out on (The Pope of Greenwich Village [1984], Footloose [1984], a Janis Joplin biopic, an adaptation of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead) went to other directors or remain unrealized. In 1996, The Deer Hunter was included by the Library of Congress in the National Film Registry for its aesthetic, cultural, and historic significance. by Richard Harland Smith Sources: Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock-n-Roll Generation Saved Hollywood by Peter Biskind (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 1998) Clint Eastwood: The Life and Legend by Patrick McGilligan (St. Martin's Press, 1999)

The Deer Hunter (Legacy Series) on DVD


The leap from a single-disc DVD to a "two-disc, all-new special edition" DVD is a tricky and dangerous one. The Deer Hunter, one of the first titles in Universal's Legacy Series of such discs, doesn't even come close to clearing that leap. It crashes and burns.

The first disc is great. If Universal hadn't been so grandiose and had just replaced the movie's 2002 no-frills DVD with this disc—containing Michael Cimino's powerful drama chronicling the effects of the Vietnam War on a group of friends from a Pennsylvania mining town, along with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond's new commentary-I would have nice things to say. But, no...the studio had to inflate the re-release to two discs, and the second is one of the flimsiest discs of bonuses anyone has ever dared to release. More on that later.

I imagine The Deer Hunter is grossly underseen by viewers who aren't old enough to have caught it during its 1978-79 theatrical run. But it's a rare movie because not only is it a big hit that's good, it's also a Best Picture Oscar®-winner that's good. Unfortunately, though, director Michael Cimino's reputation became seriously colored by the excess and the critical and commercial failure of his follow-up movie, Heaven's Gate. He hasn't made a movie in a decade, and anyone watching his accomplished work here has to wonder why. To many people, the infamous Heaven's Gate is the first movie to associate with the name Cimino, not The Deer Hunter. That's too bad because, first off, The Deer Hunter is an essential 1970s movie and, secondly, Heaven's Gate ain't so bad, either.

A few other things new arrivals to The Deer Hunter might want to know before sinking their teeth into Cimino's meaty, 3-hour drama:

  • Back in 1978, the presence of Robert DeNiro in a movie's cast was something special. After he made a name for himself in 1973's Bang the Drum Slowly and Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets, he was very selective about who he worked with. He didn't do commercial movies for the money, as he often does now (i.e., Hide and Seek, Godsend). Between Mean Streets and 1984's Once Upon a Time in America, he was in only nine movies, three for Scorsese. There was still a mystique about him, and it rubs off on his character, Michael, the most self-reliant and "different" of the three buddies who head to Vietnam together.

  • Neither Christopher Walken, who plays another of those buddies, Nick, and Meryl Streep, who plays Nick's fiancee, were yet stars before The Deer Hunter. Neither was defined by our preconceptions about them, either. Rather than playing someone "special," Streep just plays an ordinary blue-collar young woman, conflicted by her attraction to both Nick and Michael. And rather than playing a wild-eyed, semi-comic character as he so often does now, Walken is all drama as Nick, and he nabbed an Academy Award for the tragic role.

  • John Cazale, who plays Stan, the lowest in the pecking order of Michael and Nick's larger group of mill-worker buddies, was perhaps the quintessential 1970s American New Wave actor. Dying from cancer while filming The Deer Hunter, he starred in five movies (the two Godfather films, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon and this) in which he portrayed the sort of weak, unglamorous characters Hollywood usually shies away from. He's a classic.

  • The brutal and controversial Russian roulette sequence, in which captured Michael, Nick and Stevie (John Savage) are forced to play the game while their Viet Cong captors bet on their performance, lasts 17 minutes long. Could a studio-pressured director get away with such a long sequence nowadays?


Of course, the Russian roulette sequence is just one of the amazing set pieces in the movie, including the opening action in the steel mill, Stevie's marriage in an elaborate Russian Orthodox ceremony, the buddies' first hunting trip and the fall of Saigon. The movie often depicts emotions that are just too painful for words for its characters, yet there's also humor and a lifelike range of moods. So disc one of the rerelease shows that The Deer Hunter still packs a punch, and it adds an entertaining and informative audio commentary by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Hired Hand, Close Encounters of the Third Kind), one of the definite good guys in movies.

But what of the second disc? There's only about 20 minutes of footage, plus some text screens of "production notes." Although the movie runs three hours, I assume the three-minute trailer and the text could fit on disc one. That makes the 17 minutes of so-called "deleted and extended scenes" the justification for the additional disc. But, save for one conversation between Michael and Nick, these "scenes" aren't scenes at all. There is nothing else in here that was ever meant to be a legitimate scene. Because these aren't scenes, they're takes. For instance, there’s footage of Savage as trapped Stevie, calling for Michael as an offscreen Cimino instructs him to do it louder, then louder still, and then has the crew turn on the rain machine so he can film Savage doing the same thing when it's raining. This is not a scene; it's just a group of footage for Cimino to have used as cut-ins, using however loud or wet a moment he wanted. The other "deleted" footage is similarly uninteresting. It's debatable whether it's even worth sitting though once.

The "deleted scenes" are simply too weak to be the only reason for the second disc. Of course, the question that then arises is: Where are the featurettes that appeared on The Deer Hunter's English DVD, including a Cimino interview? There's certainly room for them on this undernourished 2-disc release, which truly takes the special out of special edition.

For more information about The Deer Hunter, visit Universal Home Entertainment. To order The Deer Hunter/B>, go to TCM Shopping.

by Paul Sherman

The Deer Hunter (Legacy Series) on DVD

The leap from a single-disc DVD to a "two-disc, all-new special edition" DVD is a tricky and dangerous one. The Deer Hunter, one of the first titles in Universal's Legacy Series of such discs, doesn't even come close to clearing that leap. It crashes and burns. The first disc is great. If Universal hadn't been so grandiose and had just replaced the movie's 2002 no-frills DVD with this disc—containing Michael Cimino's powerful drama chronicling the effects of the Vietnam War on a group of friends from a Pennsylvania mining town, along with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond's new commentary-I would have nice things to say. But, no...the studio had to inflate the re-release to two discs, and the second is one of the flimsiest discs of bonuses anyone has ever dared to release. More on that later. I imagine The Deer Hunter is grossly underseen by viewers who aren't old enough to have caught it during its 1978-79 theatrical run. But it's a rare movie because not only is it a big hit that's good, it's also a Best Picture Oscar®-winner that's good. Unfortunately, though, director Michael Cimino's reputation became seriously colored by the excess and the critical and commercial failure of his follow-up movie, Heaven's Gate. He hasn't made a movie in a decade, and anyone watching his accomplished work here has to wonder why. To many people, the infamous Heaven's Gate is the first movie to associate with the name Cimino, not The Deer Hunter. That's too bad because, first off, The Deer Hunter is an essential 1970s movie and, secondly, Heaven's Gate ain't so bad, either. A few other things new arrivals to The Deer Hunter might want to know before sinking their teeth into Cimino's meaty, 3-hour drama: Back in 1978, the presence of Robert DeNiro in a movie's cast was something special. After he made a name for himself in 1973's Bang the Drum Slowly and Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets, he was very selective about who he worked with. He didn't do commercial movies for the money, as he often does now (i.e., Hide and Seek, Godsend). Between Mean Streets and 1984's Once Upon a Time in America, he was in only nine movies, three for Scorsese. There was still a mystique about him, and it rubs off on his character, Michael, the most self-reliant and "different" of the three buddies who head to Vietnam together. Neither Christopher Walken, who plays another of those buddies, Nick, and Meryl Streep, who plays Nick's fiancee, were yet stars before The Deer Hunter. Neither was defined by our preconceptions about them, either. Rather than playing someone "special," Streep just plays an ordinary blue-collar young woman, conflicted by her attraction to both Nick and Michael. And rather than playing a wild-eyed, semi-comic character as he so often does now, Walken is all drama as Nick, and he nabbed an Academy Award for the tragic role. John Cazale, who plays Stan, the lowest in the pecking order of Michael and Nick's larger group of mill-worker buddies, was perhaps the quintessential 1970s American New Wave actor. Dying from cancer while filming The Deer Hunter, he starred in five movies (the two Godfather films, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon and this) in which he portrayed the sort of weak, unglamorous characters Hollywood usually shies away from. He's a classic. The brutal and controversial Russian roulette sequence, in which captured Michael, Nick and Stevie (John Savage) are forced to play the game while their Viet Cong captors bet on their performance, lasts 17 minutes long. Could a studio-pressured director get away with such a long sequence nowadays? Of course, the Russian roulette sequence is just one of the amazing set pieces in the movie, including the opening action in the steel mill, Stevie's marriage in an elaborate Russian Orthodox ceremony, the buddies' first hunting trip and the fall of Saigon. The movie often depicts emotions that are just too painful for words for its characters, yet there's also humor and a lifelike range of moods. So disc one of the rerelease shows that The Deer Hunter still packs a punch, and it adds an entertaining and informative audio commentary by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Hired Hand, Close Encounters of the Third Kind), one of the definite good guys in movies. But what of the second disc? There's only about 20 minutes of footage, plus some text screens of "production notes." Although the movie runs three hours, I assume the three-minute trailer and the text could fit on disc one. That makes the 17 minutes of so-called "deleted and extended scenes" the justification for the additional disc. But, save for one conversation between Michael and Nick, these "scenes" aren't scenes at all. There is nothing else in here that was ever meant to be a legitimate scene. Because these aren't scenes, they're takes. For instance, there’s footage of Savage as trapped Stevie, calling for Michael as an offscreen Cimino instructs him to do it louder, then louder still, and then has the crew turn on the rain machine so he can film Savage doing the same thing when it's raining. This is not a scene; it's just a group of footage for Cimino to have used as cut-ins, using however loud or wet a moment he wanted. The other "deleted" footage is similarly uninteresting. It's debatable whether it's even worth sitting though once. The "deleted scenes" are simply too weak to be the only reason for the second disc. Of course, the question that then arises is: Where are the featurettes that appeared on The Deer Hunter's English DVD, including a Cimino interview? There's certainly room for them on this undernourished 2-disc release, which truly takes the special out of special edition. For more information about The Deer Hunter, visit Universal Home Entertainment. To order The Deer Hunter/B>, go to TCM Shopping. by Paul Sherman

Quotes

You're so full of shit, you're gonna float away.
- Axel
Stanley, see this? This is this. This ain't something else. This is this. From now on, you're on your own.
- Michael
I don't think about that much with one shot anymore, Mike.
- Nick
You have to think about one shot. One shot is what it's all about. A deer's gotta be taken with one shot.
- Michael
When a man says no to champagne, he says no to life.
- Julien
I'm gettin' more ass than a toilet seat.
- Stan

Trivia

During the helicopter stunt, the runners caught on the ropes and as the helicopter rose it threatened to seriously injure 'Savage, John' and Robert De Niro. The actors gestured and yelled furiously to the crew in the helicopter to warn them. Footage of this is included in the film.

The scene where Nick spits in Michael's face when the play Russian roulette against each other at the end of the film was improvised by Christopher Walken. Director Michael Cimino convinced Walken to do this, and De Niro was completely surprised by it, as evidence by his reaction.

Meryl Streep improvised many of her lines.

Robert De Niro claims this was his most physically exhausting film.

Robert De Niro, who prepared for his role by socializing with actual steelworkers, was introduced by his hosts and new friends as "Bob", and no one recognized him.

Miscellaneous Notes

Voted Best Director by the 1978 Los Angeles Film Critics Association.

Voted Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor (Walken) by the 1978 New York Film Critics Circle.

Voted Best Supporting Actress (Streep) by th 1978 National Society of Film Critics.

Winner of the 1978 Director's Guild of America Award for Best Director.

Released in United States 1997

Released in United States July 1990

Released in United States July 2000

Released in United States Winter December 1978

Shown at International Film Festival at Karlovy Vary July 7-19 1990.

Shown at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival July 5-15, 2000.

Shown at WideScreen Film Festival in Los Angeles October 31 - November 16, 1997.

Completed production August 1978.

Released in USA on laserdisc January 24, 1991.

Released in United States 1997 (Shown at WideScreen Film Festival in Los Angeles October 31 - November 16, 1997.)

Released in United States July 1990 (Shown at International Film Festival at Karlovy Vary July 7-19 1990.)

Released in United States July 2000 (Shown at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival July 5-15, 2000.)

Released in United States Winter December 1978